Quieting the Noise

I am an introvert and a homebody by nature. So when the pandemic began and we were all put under stay-at-home orders, it was like a dream come true: You mean, the government is telling me to stay away from other people and I get to be home all day without anyone thinking it’s weird?!

But as the stay-at-home order was extended, I found myself battling loneliness. This is not really an emotion I’ve struggled with in the past. Sure, I’ve had my moments, as we all do. But this time has been different. And as you may recall from a previous post, we had an uninvited guest in our home. Suddenly, my place of security was not only lonely, but it felt unsafe.

When I first started living by myself, I struggled a lot with fear when I was home alone. I would practically barricade myself in my room, not leaving it until morning.  The pandemic and mouse sent me back to that very bad place.

A quiet house became scary to me. So I became pretty good at avoiding the quiet. I would constantly have some distraction going, whether it was music or TV. And if I wanted to paint a “spiritual” face on it, I’d listen to a Bible teaching. But all of it was to avoid the quiet.

But what if this loneliness isn’t a curse, but a call from God to my heart? What if being in a place of isolation isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to remember where true comfort is found? Second Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (ESV).

Paul, speaking about the hardships he and Timothy faced said, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received a sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV). I won’t be so dramatic as to say I “despaired of life itself.” But there have been times when I’ve wondered how I would make it through the day. I love how Paul says that they were put in their predicament so that they could learn to rely on God. In the same way, I choose to believe that God has allowed this time of being set apart for a greater purpose.

So I’m learning not to avoid the silence. I’m learning to quiet the distractions so that I can hear what the Holy Spirit wants to speak to my heart during this season. This mean less TV and an extended break from social media. It means, being comfortable enough to sit quietly, without background noise, and wait for God to come visit with me. It also means more time digging into the Word.

It’s still a little scary to have so much quiet time on my hands. But I’m hopeful that this is a season of preparation for whatever God has for me next.

An Unworthy Exchange

This week, I was reading Psalm 106. It’s about God’s faithfulness and goodness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. As I was reading, one verse caught my attention: “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Psalm‬ ‭106:20‬ ‭ESV)‬‬. When it’s put that way, it sounds absurd that the people of Israel made the choice to worship the golden calf (see Exodus 32).

It’s easy for me to sit back and judge their unfaithfulness, because I would never bow down to “the image of an ox that eats grass.” Right?! But I started to think about all ways I “exchange” God’s glory, His presence, for lesser things. What about that extra 20 minutes of sleep, instead of getting up to seek Him? Or how about the half thought out, half followed through commitment to fast? Or that one more episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, instead of cracking open my Bible before bedtime?

Psalm 105:4 says, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (ESV, emphasis added). If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have things we are seeking, other than the presence of the Lord. For me, it’s comfort, rest and peace. None of these things are bad, in and of themselves. But while I’m chasing them through extra sleep or one more episode of my current favorite TV show, I end up with a sorry replica of what can only be found in the presence of God.

Don’t get me wrong, God honors rest. He even set aside a whole day in the week for it. But when I seek that more than His presence, I’ve basically “exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

Matthew 6:32-33 says, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). So that’s what I’m choosing to do–seek God first. When I do that, I can trust that everything else, including that coveted comfort and rest I so desire, will be added to me.

The Lesson in the Lemon Tree

About a year ago, I inherited several citrus trees. Upon receiving this “gift,” I was told how easy it was to care for these potted dwarf trees. Their primary need was water, and even that was only once a week. It seemed easy enough. So I willingly committed to taking care of them.

At first, I was really diligent to water them weekly. Then I let two weeks go by, then three. Until finally I went to look at them only to discover they all were dead. Feeling horrible about my neglect, I decided I would try watering them anyway.

A week or so later, I confessed my failure to the trees’ original owner, who inspected them and concluded, just as I had, they were dead and not worth caring for any longer. To say I felt awful would be an understatement. I had been entrusted with these trees that had once been so important to him. And I had completely let him down.

Later that day, I went back to look at the dead trees, feeling hopeless about them and my life in general, when I saw something I hadn’t noticed earlier. There was a new leaf on one of the trees. Was there hope for these sickly trees? When I saw that solitary leaf, I was reminded of Job 14:7-9: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (ESV).

There was hope–for the trees and my life! So I committed to watering them weekly. I’ve been much more faithful this time around, only missing a week here or there. I even harvested a lone lemon this winter. Now that we are into spring, almost every tree has buds forming, even the lime tree, which has yet to produce fruit. I’m believing that there will be a great harvest in our house come winter.

But I was reminded again today how easy it is to become complacent. Today is my “watering” day. I had been outside earlier, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the newly-formed buds, getting excited about all the fruit we will get to harvest. I later went inside and got comfortable. As the sun was waning in the sky, I knew I needed to get up and water. But I didn’t want to.

There was a battle in my mind. On the one hand, I wanted to stay in my nice warm spot. On the other hand, I wanted to someday savor the fruit of these trees. But I won’t be able to do that if I don’t invest in their care. And that means watering them even when I’m nice and cozy and not wanting to move.

I don’t know about you, but I see so many parallels to my life. So often I want fruit without discomforting myself. I want growth without any effort. But then I’m reminded of, if not a little chastised by Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV).

There will always be that constant struggle between obedience and choosing the easiest, most comfortable path. It’s part of the sin nature. But if we want the fruit, we’ve got to make the investment of time and effort–and obedience–even if that means making ourselves uncomfortable.

So I finally decided to get up and water the trees. And you know what? When I was done, I found my spot was just as comfy and warm as when I left it. I don’t believe God calls us out of our comfort zone without providing His comfort to go with us.  After all, 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (ESV, emphasis added).

So let’s be willing to get a little uncomfortable, trusting that God will provide all the comfort we need as we obey.

The Victorious Life

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a prosperous beginning.

As a point of personal reflection, I’ve been reading through my personal journal from the last year. It’s been both encouraging and challenging to review the things God taught me in 2018.

The following is an entry I made last Good Friday (March 30, 2018). I decided to publish it here because I believe it best encapsulates what God taught me in 2018:

What does a victorious life in Christ look like? Is victory in Christ a life without trials and challenges? Is it a life where everything always works out as planned or hoped for?

That’s what I wish it looked like…all of my troubles and challenges all tied up neatly in a pretty bow. No pain, no discouragement. But that’s not victory in Christ. That’s a fairy tale. John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

I’ve been looking at “victory in Christ” all wrong. I’ve somehow bought into the lie that because my situation hasn’t resolved itself the way I’d like, I’m not experiencing victory.

The victorious life is not a life absent of trouble. It’s one that enables me to walk forward in the challenges. It’s one that gives me crazy, ridiculous joy and peace in midst of the most heart-wrenching circumstances.

This is the victorious life: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2-3). The victorious life is one where God is with me in all of my troubles, carrying me and not allowing them to overtake me.

I think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. They still had to go through it. God could have prevented them from even being put in the furnace. But He had a greater victory in mind. He allowed them to walk through it, but He kept them and walked with them. As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped the one, true God (Daniel 3).

God could rescue me from my troubles. He could have kept me from going through any of this. But He has a greater victory planned. He is walking with me through this. And others will worship the one, true God when they see His hand keeping me in the midst of the flame.

Victory in Christ is not the absence of trouble, it’s the presence of God in the midst of it.

Wanting His Presence Over His Answers

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like going through hardships and difficulties. If I had a magic button that I could push to make all bad things go away, I certainly would use it. Sadly, no such button exists–at least not that I’ve found.

So often, I want God to rescue me from my struggles. “Just make it go away, God!” (Seriously, I’ve prayed this prayer.) After all, isn’t that why I’m a Christian, so I can avoid hardships?! Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what the Bible says. John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (NLT, emphasis mine).

So what’s the point? I’m learning that hardships and suffering are permitted in our lives for a number of reasons. One of them is to draw us closer to God. (They’re also used to refine us. But that’s a post for another day.) As I’ve walked through my own brand of suffering, God has faithfully reminded me that He is with me. While I know and firmly believe He can swoop in and “make it all go away,” I believe He is giving me something greater–His presence.

Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you go through the deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through the rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (NLT, emphasis mine). I love the realness of this verse. It’s basically saying, “Look, you’re gonna go through some really hard stuff. But I will be with you and these things will not overtake you!”

Isaiah 41:13 says, “For I hold your right hand–I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you'” (NLT). This has been a particularly comforting verse for me. Envisioning the God of the Universe holding my hand–like a father holds his daughter’s hand–has allowed me to walk through things I never thought I could face.

There are so many other verses that promise God’s presence. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NLT
  • “This is my command–be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NLT
  • “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

While I still want the bad stuff to go away, I’m learning to pray as Moses did: “… If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place” (Exodus 33:15 NLT).

It’s Time to Let Go

As a parent, I’ve learned that life is a series of stages that we move in and out of. When my kids were younger, I was always a little slow catching up with them and their changing stages. I like consistency and I’m not a huge fan of change. So it’s difficult for me to let go of something, even if it’s not working anymore. I would fight for a week to get them to do what they had done before. It wasn’t until it dawned on me that maybe they’d outgrown it, that we were able to move on to something that worked better.

During this journey, letting go of what I thought I had in my marriage (even if it really wasn’t what it should have been) has been difficult. It felt too much like giving up. But I realized something the other day: No matter what happens in our future, no matter what miracle God does for us, we are never going back to our old life. That life is gone. And just like with my kids and their changing stages, if I’m unwilling to let go of the past and what doesn’t work anymore, I will never be able to grab hold of what God wants to do now.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV).

I love Isaiah 43:18-19, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God isn’t asking me to let go of something without offering me something far better. I want the new life God has for me, whatever it looks like. And that is going to require that I let go of a life that is gone and doesn’t work anymore.

Great is His Faithfulness

Earlier this year, after nearly 17 years of marriage, my husband and I separated. Whew! That was a hard sentence to write. There are a lot of people in my life that don’t know. It’s not that I’ve been trying to keep a secret or lying. But it’s really difficult to admit, out loud, such a huge failure.

From the beginning, I’ve told myself, “As soon as this resolves itself and God moves in our situation, then I’ll tell people. And what a testimony it will be!” But I’m learning that the testimony isn’t always when things are neatly resolved and put in a pretty package. Sometimes the miracle is in the process—in how a faithful God walks with me in the most difficult circumstances. As a friend aptly reminded me: “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and did not love their lives to the death” (Revelations 12:11, emphasis mine).

Although we separated earlier this year, the whole process started nearly 18 months ago. It’s been a long season, filled with a lot of life-changing lessons—none of which have been particularly fun to walk through or learn. But there’s a passage of Scripture that God gave me early on that I remind myself of often:

“I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'” (Lamentations 3:20-24 NLT).

I love Jeremiah’s honesty here. He doesn’t sugar coat it. He doesn’t pretend his situation is better than it is. He actually says, “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss” (v. 20, emphasis mine). That’s real life! That’s my life! There’s no pretty way to paint this. It’s just plain awful! But the rest of the passage is the kicker: “Yet I still dare to hope…” And that is what I’m learning. No matter how dark things get (and believe me, there have been plenty of dark times), there is still hope. Not hope in the situation itself, but in a faithful God who has promised He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). It’s in a trustworthy God who also promised in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That’s why I can say, with a confidence that only comes from experience, “Great is His faithfulness!”

Jesus Knows

Welcome back to my Incredible Faith Journey. I have not written in six years. So as you can imagine, a lot has changed. So here’s a brief update on the kids.

Journey is now nine years-old and in fourth grade. He is developing into a funny, warm, sensitive young man. Faith is a smart, bubbly seven-year-old. She reminds me of Buddy the Elf sometimes. She just can’t suppress her infectious smile.

We’ve had a rough go of things lately. And I may share more on that in future posts. But for now, I wanted to share what God is teaching me through my pain. Simply: Jesus knows! Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” That’s just fancy Bible-speak for, “Jesus knows!”

Recently, I was reading the account, in the Gospel of John, of Lazarus being raised from the dead (John 11:1-44). If I’m honest, that is one of the most frustrating stories in the Bible for me. I just can’t understand why Jesus delayed going to Bethany. I feel like Martha and Mary who say plainly, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21; 32). I don’t know how many times I’ve felt that same thing looking at my own circumstances.

But what stuck out to me when reading it this time was in verses 33 through 35:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”

Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. But he was not impervious to the pain Mary was experiencing. He was moved by her pain. And he’s moved by mine and yours. I may not understand his “delay” in coming to rescue me. But I’m comforted to know that he is “deeply moved” by my pain. He weeps with me as he did with Mary and Martha. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

I hope one day I can look back and say, “Oh that’s why!” But there’s no guarantee of that. I just have to continue to trust God in the midst and allow my heart to be comforted knowing that “Jesus knows!”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑